BOSTON (CBS) – A new report released Thursday by the Coast Guard called the 2015 loss of the El Faro cargo ship and its 33 crewmembers “a tragic and preventable accident.”
The report comes after the Coast Guard in October released the results of its investigation into what went wrong when the El Faro sank during a hurricane near Crooked Island, Bahamas. The Coast Guard placed most of the blame on the ship’s owner and captain.
El Faro was sailing from the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida to Puerto Rico in 2015. It sank near the Bahamas in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin.
In a “Final Action Memo” released Thursday, Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, approved of the investigation findings and conclusions, marking it as the official Coast Guard position on the cause of the fatal marine disaster.
Zukunft concluded that the primary cause of the ship’s loss was the decision to navigate El Faro too close to the path of Hurricane Joaquin.
“While many factors contributed to this marine casualty, by far the most prominent was the master’s decision to sail the ship in close proximity to a Category 3 hurricane,” he wrote. “There were multiple opportunities to take alternate, safer routes as the storm approached… There were warnings and recommendations from the mates on successive watches to alter course to avoid the storm, but they were not heeded. ”
None of the 33 members on board were recovered. Two victims, Jeffery Mathias and Keith Griffin, were members of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s class of 2005.
The sinking was the worst maritime disaster for a US flagged vessel since 1983.
Voice recordings recovered from the ship show an increasingly panicked and stress crew fight to save the ship after it lost propulsion.
In October, the Marine Board of Investigations also showed the American Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard failed to perform inspection duties on the ship.
“This casualty did not occur due to a lack of standards or requirements; rather it was the result of poor seamanship compounded by failure of the safety framework that should have triggered a series of corrective actions that likely would have prevented it,” Zukunft wrote.
The ship’s owner, Tote Maritime, had “an an ineffective safety management system.”
The report outlines final agency actions that will be taken in response to 39 recommendations to the Coast Guard, of which 31 are meant to prevent future deaths.
“El Faro’s heartbreaking story points to the need for all maritime stakeholders to zealously recommit to both the safety of our mariners and to professionalism of the maritime industry,” Zukunft wrote.